With Mustang Mach-E, Ford Promises a Big Step Forward in Electric Cars, But We’ll Have to Wait to See If It’s Real

November 19, 2019 | 9:35 am
Red Ford Mustang Mach-EFORD MEDIA CENTER
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

Ford has announced a new electric car, and it looks like it will be an exciting new option for car buyers. This debut is promising news for the transition from gasoline to electricity, and yet it’s also a great example of a significant problem we’re seeing with traditional automakers’ electric vehicle efforts, consumers may have a long wait until they’ll be able to buy one.

The unveiling of a new long-range plug-in car is a step in the right direction. We know that switching from gasoline to electricity is vital to reduce both air pollution and climate-changing emissions. And there’s a lot to like about the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Here’s what’s good about this new Ford:

  • It’s a car built as an EV from the start. The first all-electric from Ford (the Focus) was based on a gasoline-powered car. Designing this as an EV from the start means it’s designed to take advantage of electric drive, from big changes like dual motor all-wheel drive to cool tricks like storage under the hood (and it’s waterproof and drainable for carrying messy or wet items).

    A purpose-built EV means vehicle designers can take advantage of the lack of an engine. Like Tesla’s electric cars, the Mustang Mach-E has additional storage in a front trunk.
    Credit: Ford Motor Company

  • The focus of the initial marketing is about how this is a better car than gasoline models (and not about being “green”). EVs have a lot of advantages over gasoline cars like lower fuel and maintenance costs and very fast acceleration. But many carmakers have chosen to try to sell EVs as an eco-friendly option, not as simply a better choice. Ford (at least initially) seems to be highlighting driving performance and cost savings in their marketing and is including a performance version of the Mach-E with under 4 second 0-60 mph acceleration. This is a good sign, because in order to transform the vehicle market automakers will need to be able to build and sell EVs as simply better options rather than a “green” compromise.
  • It could signal the start of more EVs from Ford. The company has also invested in an EV truck start-up called Rivian and has promised an electric version of its top-selling F-150 pickup truck.

But the Ford announcement also shows a significant problem with EVs from the traditional automakers. The reveal of the Mustang Mach-E garnered a great deal of press and excitement, but Ford will have to work to ensure that excitement is long-lived. The first versions of the Mach E are slated to go on sale in about a year, with the lower-priced base model promised by “early 2021”. That means at least another year where Ford will sell only gasoline-power vehicles. And it will be almost a decade (nine years) after Tesla started selling the Model S.

If we’re going to make the switch to EVs quick enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, Ford and every other car company will need to move much faster. For example, to reach California’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2045, nearly all new cars sold in the state would need to be electric drive by 2035 at the latest. Automakers will have to go from offering a handful of EV options to almost completely electric in the next ten to fifteen years. That means Ford (and others) will need to make sure that electric pickup truck and SUV options arrive soon.  And laggards like Fiat-Chrysler and Toyota who have yet to offer a mass-market fully electric car have even further to go, especially since they are also moving in the wrong direction with their gasoline cars by working to undermine state and federal clean car standards.

The other unknown is whether Ford will put manufacturing and marketing support behind this car, like they do with their current high-volume gasoline vehicles. In the past, we’ve seen other manufacturers debut promising electric cars, only to then sell them in limited volumes in a handful of states. And companies that have EVs for sale often don’t advertise them. For example, GM spent over $20 million advertising their Silverado pickup truck in California, but virtually $0 in the state on the all-electric Chevy Bolt.

Is Ford going to push the Mustang Mach-E as the future of the company? We won’t know the answer to this question for a year or more.  So far, the signs are hopeful, but we’ll have to wait until 2021 to know if Ford backs up the promise with actual change in the way they market and sell EVs.

About the author

More from David

David Reichmuth's work focuses on analyzing new vehicle technologies and advocating for policies that support the increased electrification of transportation. Dr. Reichmuth has testified at hearings before the US House of Representatives, the California State Legislature, and the California Air Resources Board, and he is an expert on California’s Zero Emission Vehicles regulation.